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Adam

The Passion vs. The Temptation

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I am curious to know since I see that I voted in the majority on The Passion reviews if there is anyone else out there with thoughts about the difference between The Passion and Last Temptaion of Christ.

I know it may not be fair to compare one Jesus film banned by the Catholic Church to one sanctioned by it. (And the fact that one is based on a novel - not the Bible) But I had a lot of trouble with the assumptions that the Passion makes. I found many things horrifying and actually unbelievable, whereas I found the Last Temptation challenging and actually inspirational.

Case in point: The crucifixion. After working in a live Passion Play for a couple of years I learned a lot about the way crucifixions would actually have been done. And I must say Martin Scorcese did it better than anyone else I've seen. Sorry, Mel.

Of course all films are affected by the way you first experience them. But to be honest I must say that The Last Temptation did more for me than The Passion. Is it just me?

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I know it may not be fair to compare one Jesus film banned by the Catholic Church to one sanctioned by it.

Very true. Of course, for that fact to be relevant we would have to be talking about two completely different Jesus films, since neither of the films under discussion has been either banned or sanctioned by the Catholic Church. (Two other Jesus films, The Gospel According to St. Matthew and the silent Pathe Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, have been sort of sanctioned by the Catholic Church, inasmuch as they were listed for outstanding religious value on the 1995 Vatican film list.)

As a loyal son of the Church, my hostility toward Last Temptation and my advocacy of The Passion of the Christ reflects purely my own personal application of Catholic moral and religious principles to particular artistic efforts, in no way an official judgment of the Church on either of these films.

After working in a live Passion Play for a couple of years I learned a lot about the way crucifixions would actually have been done. And I must say Martin Scorcese did it better than anyone else I've seen. Sorry, Mel.

Given the limited state of our knowledge about how crucifixions were actually done, and the variation that existed in the way they were done at different times and in different places, I think we need to be very careful about sweeping statements in these matters.

I think it's defensible to say that Scorcese's crucifixion scene may indeed have been more historically realistic than Gibson's. Of course, we're comparing apples and oranges. Whatever either man may have said on the subject, Gibson wasn't trying for scrupulous historical authenticity, and Scorcese wasn't trying to portray the redemptive passion and death of the God-Man who knew no sin and had no falsehood in his mouth.

Gibson exchanged scrupulous historicity for a stylized meditation reflecting Catholic spirituality of the way of the cross, and Scorcese exchanged the meaning of the crucifixion for an allegory of human experience involving the death of a fallible, fallen creature incapable of atoning even for his own sins, let alone those of the world.

Me, I'll take a stylized depiction of the atoning death of the God-Man over a historically verisimilitudinous depiction of a meaningless moral victory of a neurotic non-divine messiah any day of the week.

But to be honest I must say that The Last Temptation did more for me than The Passion. Is it just me?

No, it's not just you. But that doesn't mean you're right. :twisted:

Personally, I would argue that Harvey Keitel as Brooklyn Jesus alone proves the brilliance of Mel's decision to film in the ancient languages. biggrin.gif

I would also argue that The Passion is the more universal film. Last Temptation is a ultimately work of postmodern, navel-gazing, introspective psychological fiction that doesn't even try to transcend the hangups and obsessions of its writers and director. The Passion, although shaped by Gibson's action-film and Traditionalist sensibilities, is much more a reflection of a centuries-old spiritual tradition that will be just as relevant centuries from now as it was centuries ago.

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I too was more moved by The Last Temptation... and here's why.

I do not . And I do think it strays from and even contradicts Scripture.

But it is not the art of a man who is a traditional, faithful, evangelical believer. Rather, it is the work of a doubter, struggling to understand how the divine and the purely human could co-exist. So he fictionalizes Jesus, wrestles with him, explores a lot of "what if's." That is art, not preaching. And however misguided he is on certain points, the compelling exercise of his wrestling with the question of a human Jesus deeply moved me, and prompted questions in me that have drawn me closer to God as I have wrestled with them.

I reject most of the evangelical church's protests of the film because they were protesting scenes of Christ sleeping with his wife. The truth is, this scene takes place in a TEMPTATION... in a vision presented to Jesus by the Devil, who is enticing him to accept that life. Jesus knows he is called to something else, and he rejects that path. Thus, he is triumphant, faithful to the end of his sacrifice, and thus "It is finished!" is shouted joyously to God. That moment thrills me. It shows me what Christ could have enjoyed, but did not... for me.

Of course, MOST of the evangelical church's protests were ridiculous. Dobson's protest claimed the film portrays Christ as a homosexual? Why? Because he kisses a man on the lips. Umm, no, I don't think that scene was meant in a sexual manner at all. After all, John was Jesus beloved and we are told he reclined with Jesus, placing his head on Jesus' breast. That shows just how far contemporary culture has come from understanding intimate friendship and brotherhood between men... we can only interpret such things in a depraved and narrow fashion.

Of course, the music of Last Temptation is too good even for that film. It's the most extraordinary soundtrack I've ever heard... so good, in fact, that The Passion's soundtrack is a cheap and undeniable copy of it. That too is in Temptation's favor.

Sure, Temptation has its faults and weaknesses... primarily in its portrayal of Christ as an insecure and fearful man. But even there I feel that the church's reaction is too extreme... they cannot admit that there ARE moments (Gethsemane, most of all) where Christ is racked with anxiety. The thought of a troubled Jesus is threatening to us.

But that is the Scriptural truth... Jesus was a man who was at times kept from seeing God's will entirely, and thus pleaded with God for a way other than the one he could see opening before him.

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Sure, Temptation has its faults and weaknesses... primarily in its portrayal of Christ as an insecure and fearful man.

And in envisioning Judas, the ultimate traitor, as a hero and finally a prophet.

And in envisioning St. Paul, the great champion of the resurrection, declaring that if the resurrection is not historical it is necessary and legitimate to invent it.

And in envisioning Satan kissing the sacred wounds of Christ.

And in having Jesus scornfully say to his Blessed Mother "I have no family," leaving her in tears.

And in depicting John the Baptist as a hysterical-ecstatic Pentecostal spouting dark OT apocalyptic, with nothing of his actual themes of repentance and the kingdom of heaven, while people inexplicable stand around naked, gibbering and shaking.

And most especially in having Jesus talk about himself needing "forgiveness." And paying with his life for his own sins. And calling fear his "god." And talking about being more motivated by fear than by love. And having an ambivalent at best relationship with his Father.

I hate this christology from hell so violently, I could just puke.

But even there I feel that the church's reaction is too extreme... they cannot admit that there ARE moments (Gethsemane, most of all) where Christ is racked with anxiety. The thought of a troubled Jesus is threatening to us.

Not to me. I'm all in favor of that. That's orthodoxy. Last Temptation is blasphemy.

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Hey, Adam, you're a Vancouverite too? Tell us more! smile.gif

SDG wrote:

: I think it's defensible to say that Scorcese's crucifixion scene may indeed

: have been more historically realistic than Gibson's. Of course, we're

: comparing apples and oranges. Whatever either man may have said on

: the subject, Gibson wasn't trying for scrupulous historical authenticity . . .

Yes, and I think we should hold him accountable on this point, rather than brush aside his claims to historical accuracy with a "Whatever he may have said..."

: . . . and Scorcese wasn't trying to portray the redemptive passion and

: death of the God-Man who knew no sin and had no falsehood in his mouth.

Uh, how does the content of the non-crucifixion scenes affect the historical accuracy of the actual crucifixion scene itself?

: Personally, I would argue that Harvey Keitel as Brooklyn Jesus alone

: proves the brilliance of Mel's decision to film in the ancient languages. biggrin.gif

It's hard to argue with THAT, even though Mel did use the wrong languages. smile.gif

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Rather, it is the work of a doubter, struggling to understand how the

: divine and the purely human could co-exist. So he fictionalizes Jesus,

: wrestles with him, explores a lot of "what if's." That is art, not preaching.

: And however misguided he is on certain points, the compelling exercise

: of his wrestling with the question of a human Jesus deeply moved me,

: and prompted questions in me that have drawn me closer to God as I

: have wrestled with them.

Agreed. Admittedly, in wrestling with this movie and the questions it raised, I ultimately came to reject Scorsese's idea of what it means to be fully human -- like Lloyd Baugh says, the film suffers from not only a poor Christology, but from a poor anthropology, too -- but this film, which I saw when I was only 17, prodded me towards a more orthodox understanding of what "full humanity" means, both for Jesus and for all the rest of us.

The Passion, on the other hand, has not moved me to re-examine my beliefs or practices at all (with the relatively minor exception of boosting my respect for Mary). If anything, it just might confirm my Eastward drift away from the Anselmic bias of the Western churches.

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I am also not threatened at all by the thought of a Jesus troubled in Gethsemene. But I am greatly troubled by the blasphemous suggestion that Christ manipulated Judas into his betrayal, as well as the other points that SDG listed above.

Janet Maslin, in her review of Last Temptation, speaks glowingly of the "open-minded clerics and Biblical scholars" who were not troubled by such ideas but used them as "food for thought." These enlightened souls, of course, are being contrasted with the narrow-minded and sectarian Dobson. Now, I don't agree with Dobson's assessment of the celebrated sex scene, but can't we extend the same grace to him that we extend to those who fear anti-Semitism in the Passion? He was clearly reacting to Hollywood's recent history of mocking and ridiculing many of the beliefs that are dear to him (this is is no way suggesting that Hollywood's bashing of religion is equal to the horrors of pogroms).

Many of the open minded clerics are not nearly as open-minded as they seem. They are really not open to the truth of Christ's divinity or the possibility of the miraculous. Their obvious biases are just more in step with a reviewer like Ms Maslin.

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Good timing, i'm currently working on an article that compares the two films. I don't see how anyone can call The Last Temptation of Christ blasphemy. It's a different film made from an altogether different psychology than The Passion of the Christ.

From my upcoming article:

The vast difference between the films is revealed in the first frames of each. In The Last Temptation of Christ, a disclaimer is immediately presented, making audiences aware that this is not a historical record, but merely speculation into the "what ifs" regarding the temptations and struggles of Christ's humanity. Contrast this against Gibson's film, which quotes from the book of Isaiah and notes that the words were penned 700 years before the unfolding saga began. One rendition claims to be story, the other history. The debate ensues.

It just seems to me that when one film immediately claims not to be the truth, but rather a character study, and when another story claims to be The Truth (as best as can be determined), the only comparison that can be made is in the imagery of each.

-s.

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Well, I can see there is at least some interest in this subject. That's good. I would like to reassert my belief in film as experience. They affect me more often than I choose to be affected by them. I saw Last Temptation when I was 20 and it made me sweat and clench my teeth and gasp and cry and then finally experience Joy. I saw The Passion just last week expecting the same thing but (almost against my will) instead noticing things like the fake flesh, a very sympathetic Pilate and a very insistant Caiphas. Its not that I don't agree with these interpretations mind you. I had just hoped to see the film probe deeper into the hearts of these characters. I liked Judas in the Passion attempting a last minute reversal of the authorities' decision. And I liked Pilate's struggle for Truth (veritas). I know Gibson didn't set out do a completely historical account of the Crucifixion. But I guess in some ways I wished that he had, more than just in language.

I apologise (esp to SDG) for broad sweeping statements about the Catholic Church's sanctioning or banning of films. I actually have no knowledge of such things, that was born entirely out of gossip and ignorance. :oops:

The thing I liked about The Last Temptation was that it probed into the heart of a Man I worship, and not just as the guy with the answers. If Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, why shouldn't he have experienced the most troublesome human afflictions, like temptation and doubt? Not everything about it was good to me. I disliked the John the Baptist interpretation and it took me a while to wrap my head around the decision in the desert to "not bring peace, but a sword". I think in some ways the character of Judas as the original disciple and being asked to betray Jesus was as much to challenge us in our conventional perceptions of him as it was blasphemic. I don't agree or disagree, but it sure got me thinking.

As for the "I have no family" quote. That wasn't shocking to me really. I only took it as a colloquial way of refrerencing to Mark 3: He said "Who are my mother and my brothers?"

TLT's Jesus says some things that seem troublesome, probably in the same way The Passion's Jesus must have caused trouble in his own context before the film began. My post-modern ears were almost as shocked to hear "God is not an Israelite!" as theirs must have been to hear "Our Father in heaven..." Before I saw TLT I never really understood how Jesus chose to suffer and die. Before it always seemed chosen for Him. I guess both are true but the former is a lot more powerful for me giving me all the more reason to love Him. Now that I think about, both films depict a Jesus who makes that choice. One at the end as has been noted "It is finished" and the other at the beginning when he steps on that snake. Of course that's just how I percieved it. I'm not at all an expert. And just so everyone knows where I stand, I've always loved God for being God, but even more so for "becoming" Human.

The second time I watched TLT I read the book just beforehand. Maybe my perception changed in that time but I was a lot less scandalized the second time around. As powerful and challenging as the film: Nikos Kazanstankis tells us that the process of writing that book helped him to fall more in love with Jesus than he ever thought possible.

Hello other Vancouverites! I apologise for not filling in more about myself. I will in time. This is my first day! Stef, I'd like to read that whole article when your done. Where can I find it?

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SDG:

I just re-read your reply and the reviews you had written on both films, realizing how pedantic some of my ideas must seem. I'm glad to see how much consideration you've put into the topic. Amazing how differently we can perceive things even when coming from the same side, depending on the ways we've each experienced them eh?

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Hi Adam,

Welcome to the boards!. Good question which I'll comment on after I've commented on others comments

:"It is finished!" is shouted joyously to God. That moment thrills me.

It thrills me too. The ending of this is fantastic. I think I've commented before on how although various Jesus films omit the resurrection how it omits it (a la Ebert) is more the issue. Son of Man for example gives a very bleak ending indeed, Jesus just hanging on the cross. Jesus Christ Superstar is very ambivalent, and raises questions rather than giving answers. Last Temptation really conveys the sense of victory that we know was acheived at that moment. In fact it does that better even than the Jesus films that do have the resurrection. All three approaches have their merits in my book, but I felt more hope at the end of Last Tempation than I did in the resurrection scene at the end of the Passion (although it was interesting speculation).

FWIW the line in Last Temptation is actually "It is accomplished" which carries the sense of victory rather than pessimism much better IMO.

: I saw Last Temptation when I was 20 (Adam)

: this film, which I saw when I was only 17 (PTC)

I was actually 25, but I suspect in all our cases we saw it before we'd really seen a lot of Jesus films and really got into studying them, and here is partly where the rub lies. A lot of what people are experiencing with this film is seeing Jesus's death portrayed violently for the first time, and that's why they are impacted. For us we've been trhrought that journey and remember it, and the Passion doesn't take us back through it. It reminds me about the comment on the Matrix sequels that someone made here " We want the experience of seeing the Matrix again not the same thing" (or words to that effect)

SDG wrote

And in envisioning Judas, the ultimate traitor, as a hero and finally a prophet.

And in envisioning St. Paul, the great champion of the resurrection, declaring that if the resurrection is not historical it is necessary and legitimate to invent it.

And in envisioning Satan kissing the sacred wounds of Christ.

These are all in the context of a dream / temptation, and so I'm not sure that that is the best way to interptret them

: And in having Jesus scornfully say to his Blessed Mother "I have no

: family," leaving her in tears.

I struggle with that in the bible as well tho'. I'm not convinced by the film that get Jesus to sugarcoat it by smiling & winking as he says the words (Mary the Mother of Jesus anyone?)

And in depicting John the Baptist as a hysterical-ecstatic Pentecostal spouting dark OT apocalyptic, with nothing of his actual themes of repentance and the kingdom of heaven, while people inexplicable stand around naked, gibbering and shaking.

Yeah was is with them? (I don't object to JtB being cast in an OT Apocalyptic mode, but the lack of his true themes and the naked people

And most especially in having Jesus talk about himself needing "forgiveness." And paying with his life for his own sins. And calling fear his "god." And talking about being more motivated by fear than by love. And having an ambivalent at best relationship with his Father.

Agreed (tho I'm unsure why he got baptised the film was a way from my own reading here).

Stef

The vast difference between the films is revealed in the first frames of each. In The Last Temptation of Christ, a disclaimer is immediately presented, making audiences aware that this is not a historical record, but merely speculation into the "what ifs" regarding the temptations and struggles of Christ's humanity. Contrast this against Gibson's film, which quotes from the book of Isaiah and notes that the words were penned 700 years before the unfolding saga began. One rendition claims to be story, the other history. The debate ensues.

Good point. I don't underatnd why he'd change this from 400BC to 700BC rather than leave the date off all together.

Personally, the films are as different as chalk and cheese (altho' they both have "Christ" in the title (and I'm struggling to think of another that does that without also having Jesus in there too). The most interesting aspect is how tho' both films have been controversial, one has been criticsed by Christians and the other by Jews (altho' in both cases there have been protests by members of both faiths).

For me The Passion contains less flaws than Last Temptation but it also never rises to its heights. It is safer, more consistent, less off track, but it also fails to give the insights that come from Last Temptation. I'm glad we have both.

Matt

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Good timing, i'm currently working on an article that compares the two films. I don't see how anyone can call The Last Temptation of Christ blasphemy.

You don't see how anyone could? Not just, you disagree, you don't even understand the position?

Have you read my article? I know that not everyone who reads it agrees with it. But I'm baffled that anyone could read it and then say "I don't see how anyone could say that." It ain't that hard.

The vast difference between the films is revealed in the first frames of each. In The Last Temptation of Christ, a disclaimer is immediately presented, making audiences aware that this is not a historical record, but merely speculation into the "what ifs" regarding the temptations and struggles of Christ's humanity.

Which just makes it blasphemous speculation rather than blasphemous assertion. The truth or falsity, the hereticalness or non-hereticalness, of a proposition is independent of the degree to which it is claimed to be actually the case. A man who says "God incarnate was a fallible sinner" is a blasphemer; a man who says "God incarnate was a fallible sinner in this story I just made up" is a teller of blasphemous stories.

Besides, I find Last Temptation's disclaimer irrelevant, if not hypocritical. It stresses that the film is "not based on the gospels," but on the Kazantzakis novel -- but what was the novel based on? Monty Python's Life of Brian? It was based on the Gospels, however fictitiously.

These are all in the context of a dream / temptation, and so I'm not sure that that is the best way to interptret them

Only partly. Judas' function as Jesus' conscience, and a man of principle who betrays Jesus against his own wishes under direct orders from Jesus, is real-world. When he becomes transformed into a prophet in the temptation (still not 100% clear to me that it was all a dream / vision; why shouldn't it really have happened but then God set the clock back?), it's merely a reflection of the role he played in life.

As for Satan kissing the sacred wounds, what we see in the vision is a girl or an angel; it's in reality that we know that it's the devil tempting him. The dream / vision thing doesn't help me here.

Also, the St. Paul thing though part of the temptation doesn't seem to have any reason for being there, other than to introduce the idea of a non-historical invented resurrection.

: And in having Jesus scornfully say to his Blessed Mother "I have no

: family," leaving her in tears.

I struggle with that in the bible as well tho'.

NO. In the first place, in the Bible, Jesus is speaking TO THE CROWD; his message is for THEM. That's hugely different from what we see in the film.

In the second place, what Jesus says is NOT "I have no family," which is an unqualified rejection, but "My family are those who do God's will." Which means that if Mary does God's will, she is his family. And she does. It's just like the parallel case in Luke where a woman calls out "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that suckled you!" and Jesus replies, "Blessed rather are those who hear God's word and do it!" Jesus isn't saying that Mary ISN'T blessed; Elizabeth declared under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that she was ("Blessed is she who believed...") Rather, Jesus is pointing to the source of true blessedness, which Mary certainly shares in.

: And most especially in having Jesus talk about himself needing

: "forgiveness." And paying with his life for his own sins. And calling fear

: his "god." And talking about being more motivated by fear than by love.

: And having an ambivalent at best relationship with his Father.

Agreed

Yeah, well, that's the ball of wax if you ask me.

I'm glad we have both.

Oh, so am I. Except for Last Temptation. :twisted:

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These are all in the context of a dream / temptation' date=' and so I'm not sure that that is the best way to interptret them[/quote']

Only partly. Judas' function as Jesus' conscience, and a man of principle who betrays Jesus against his own wishes under direct orders from Jesus, is real-world. When he becomes transformed into a prophet in the temptation (still not 100% clear to me that it was all a dream / vision; why shouldn't it really have happened but then God set the clock back?), it's merely a reflection of the role he played in life.

As for Satan kissing the sacred wounds, what we see in the vision is a girl or an angel; it's in reality that we know that it's the devil tempting him. The dream / vision thing doesn't help me here.

Also, the St. Paul thing though part of the temptation doesn't seem to have any reason for being there, other than to introduce the idea of a non-historical invented resurrection.

Agreed on Judas. The St Paul thing just doesn't really make sense. I don't get why the Devil would tempt Jesus by showing him that people would make it up. I know what you're saying cos you've said it elsewhere, but that doesn't really seem to fit with the film, but the film just seems, well, stupid at this point, rather than subversive.

As for kissing the sacred wounds. Is this something that offends Catholics more than others specifically? If not then I'm not sure I get your point. The devils temptations are seductive, so it doesn't seem out of step with that for he/she to be kissing Jesus whilst seeking to deceive him and tempt him.

: And in having Jesus scornfully say to his Blessed Mother "I have no

: family," leaving her in tears.

I struggle with that in the bible as well tho'.

NO. In the first place, in the Bible, Jesus is speaking TO THE CROWD; his message is for THEM. That's hugely different from what we see in the film.

Nod

In the second place, what Jesus says is NOT "I have no family," which is an unqualified rejection, but "My family are those who do God's will." Which means that if Mary does God's will, she is his family.
Yeah I'm still not happy about it tho'

: And most especially in having Jesus talk about himself needing

: "forgiveness." And paying with his life for his own sins. And calling fear

: his "god." And talking about being more motivated by fear than by love.

: And having an ambivalent at best relationship with his Father.

Agreed

Yeah, well, that's the ball of wax if you ask me.

That muct be an americanism that I'm not familiar with.

I'm glad we have both.

Oh, so am I. Except for Last Temptation. :twisted:

I thought you might say this, but do you not find anything in it which is interesting, insightful, inspiring or of any benefit?

Matt

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These are all in the context of a dream / temptation, and so I'm not sure that that is the best way to interptret them

Only partly. Judas' function as Jesus' conscience, and a man of principle who betrays Jesus against his own wishes under direct orders from Jesus, is real-world. When he becomes transformed into a prophet in the temptation (still not 100% clear to me that it was all a dream / vision; why shouldn't it really have happened but then God set the clock back?), it's merely a reflection of the role he played in life.

I see the whole dream/real life binary as much more complex in Last Temptation than to divide it according to the onscreen vision/"real life". The whole film, like the book, feels like a postmodern or magical realist dreamscape, in which the lines between symbols and "reality" much more blurry and overlapping to make too many confident assertions about which is which or, rather, which is "real life" or not.

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I thought you might say this, but do you not find anything in it which is interesting, insightful, inspiring or of any benefit?

There is one exactly one scene in the film in which Willem Dafoe became Jesus for me watching the film: the scene following his arrest in which he stands, naked, back to the camera, shivering and alone.

Whenever he's talking, though, it's a complete wash.

I see the whole dream/real life binary as much more complex in Last Temptation than to divide it according to the onscreen vision/"real life". The whole film, like the book, feels like a postmodern or magical realist dreamscape, in which the lines between symbols and "reality" much more blurry and overlapping to make too many confident assertions about which is which or, rather, which is "real life" or not.

That sounds strongly convergent with my own thoughts on the subject, although more clearly conceived and expressed.

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Whenever he's talking, though, it's a complete wash.

Well, maybe a complete wash in terms of the orthodox understanding of Jesus. But insofar as he is adapting the character of the book, Dafoe is a dead ringer.

(Just to echo Mike's well-penned thoughts.)

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Well, maybe a complete wash in terms of the orthodox understanding of Jesus.

Yes, that's what I meant.

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Orthodoxy is only one measuring stick here. Christ in this film is primarily a matrix of all the loose threads of meaning the original author is himself struggling with. I very much see Kazantzakis in Dafoe's Jesus, Kazantzakis the intellectual bookworm who feels the constant pressure of his entire tradition (think Zorba --dancing, singing, loving life, action over ideas) to come down from his abstract heavenlies and incarnate himself in life -- and finding it very difficult, going back and forth between ideas and incarnation in all he does, just like the Dafoe character. As a fairly bookish sort myself, I can identify. But obviously it's tough on the viewer who is looking at that depiction of Christ and holding only the measuring stick of Orthodoxy. Not that I don't sometimes find it difficult with this treatment to stay loose with all the threads weaving in and out, but I think that's how it must be approached: loose and active, in terms of keeping track of the protean meanings in play.

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Not that I don't sometimes find it difficult with this treatment to stay loose with all the threads weaving in and out, but I think that's how it must be approached: loose and active, in terms of keeping track of the protean meanings in play.

This is top-notch stuff Mike. It is great to see K.'s "Christ" through this perspective. This "Christ" almost becomes Jesus as if he were in Dhalgren, or a Beckett play. He is one competing system of signs among many. And then to complicate matters, these aren't cultural systems, these are privatized systems. They are unique to Kazantzakis, ultimately localized in the vein of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.

So we can only really apprehend this "Christ" literarily rather than literally.

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Let me preface this by saying, I haven't read this whole thread yet.

I just saw The Passion of the Christ this weekend and attempted, once again, to watch The Temptation... and the most obvious thing I noticed was the acting in Temptation was so awkward and unbelievable that I just couldn't go on.

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Is it true that Kazanstankis book was based on the Gospels? Or is it fair to say that he took the Gospel story and said "Now, what if...?" Also, we know that he comes from the island of Crete (or is it Cyprus?) And I wonder if that locale, with greater diversity of religion and opinion about the person of Jesus informed some of the images presented? Aren't there a lot of apocryphal books about Jesus that most of us don't get exposed to in North America which may have had greater influence in the authors' life? Does anyone know more about this that they can share?

Also I'd like to return to the "Is it good art, or not?" question. I think it IS good, simply because it has caused me to really look inside and evaluate my belief. I've always understood good art to be that which asks questions and cheesy art to be that which attempts to provide answers. Asking the questions have actually strengthened my faith rather than weakened it, even when the answers are a resounding NO!

"Art is the lie which reveals the truth" Pablo Picasso

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Is it true that Kazanstankis book was based on the Gospels? Or is it fair to say that he took the Gospel story and said "Now, what if...?"
I don't think it's as simple as either of these choices, though the work is invariably judged as if it were only one or the other. I doubt whether Kazantzakis himself would let his goals or meanings be nailed down so neatly. I think of the entire work -- not just "the temptation" sequence -- as a sort of fever dream of a tormented, extremely literate soul. The symbols pop up and coalesce, break off and reform like weird idea bubbles. You can't ask those kind of either/or questions of the genres I mentioned earlier, Magical Realism or postmodern fiction ala Pynchon. If you have an either/or mindset, these genres will drive you crazy (as they do people like John Gardiner). They require an entirely new brain configuration, very much both/and.

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Is it true that Kazanstankis book was based on the Gospels? Or is it fair to say that he took the Gospel story and said "Now, what if...?"

I bet Mike H. could articulate this case better than I could, so I look forward to hearing his response to this. But it isn't even really a case of "What if..."

His work exists parallel to a long term experience of "Christ" as a paradoxically moving and distant ideology. This is akin to a hypothetical Andy Warhol silk-screening of the face of Christ. He really is not interested in commentary on the gospels or the person, but in tapping into the power of this primordial tradition and letting it play over his (and the reader's) consciousness.

It really is a great piece of literature, of utterly humanist speculation just like The Sound and the Fury or Ulysses. To think of it as a work of philosophical speculation on the historical fabric of the gospels is to misread it.

Herman Hesse's take on Siddhartha may come close to this, but is much more literal and may be a bit more of the "What if..." scenario that you are thinking of.

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He is one competing system of signs among many.
I love this, and I'm guessing you mean "the Jesus of Scripture" is one competing system of signs among many in Last Temptation. Exactly. This point reminds me (actually, way too many things remind me) of Star Trek, where Commander Data is also a locus for shifting meanings. In some contexts, Data stands for "the marginalized Other" and the writers might, for example, impose a discussion of race or human rights over his role, to make some typically Trekish humanitarian point. But other times Data is a stand-in for "cold, abstraction": the anti-thesis of the humanitarian perspective. So, as I once noted elsewhere, if you're not paying attention, you'll find yourself rooting for cold abstraction as if it were a humanitarian goal. It's like a shell game, with meaning as pea, so you gotta watch carefully. Last Temptation is an even more complex shell game.

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Orthodoxy is only one measuring stick here.

Fine, but it's an indispensable one. And it becomes increasingly indispensable the closer something comes to the center of Christian truth -- and taking on God Incarnate is about as close to the center as you can get. At that point, if you fail by this yardstick, you've failed, period; appeals to other measuring sticks can't save you.

He is one competing system of signs among many. And then to complicate matters, these aren't cultural systems, these are privatized systems. They are unique to Kazantzakis, ultimately localized in the vein of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.

To presume to "privatize" the figure of Jesus Christ and the crucifixion as uniquely personal symbols with significances different from and violently contrary to the significance intended by God and recognized by Christendom is, I submit, inherently objectionable and offensive.

God incarnate cannot be reduced to "one competing system of signs among many." Think what this means. "I am going to reimagine God incarnate in my own image, with complete disregard for what the Incarnation really means and is, and what Christendom understands thereby. That which God wrought for the salvation of my soul, I choose to think about as a metaphor for my own wretchedness. The gospel story I contemplate not as any kind of window into divine truth, but as a hall of mirrors, a sounding board for my own tortured reflections on my own condition."

By the way, isn't it remarkable how this prescinding from orthodoxy and reinvestment of the gospel with purely personal meaning just happens to turn out to reverse and confound every single expectation and sensibility that Christians have regarding the gospel story?

For example, it's interesting how Kazantzakis couldn't find anything sufficiently evocative of whatever he was trying to say in the traditional depiction of Judas as a traitor. No, he had to make him a righteous man who had a moral task so challenging that not even Jesus would have been able to do it, so God kindly gave the harder task to Judas and only asked his son to die on the cross. Now, that resonates with the deeply personal symbolic system Kazantzakis was creating.

And Peter, ah, mustn't let him ever say or do anything that would actually be insightful or spiritual or admirable -- those parts of the gospel stories, they just don't lend themselves to this privatized metaphor. Peter speaking out of turn and saying wrong things, a Peter that Judas can roll his eyes at, that's the Peter that measures up on the orthodoxy-challenged yardstick that turns out to be most useful here.

Isn't there just a possibility that the reason Jesus hates and fears God, and that Judas is a hero, and that Paul espouses modernist anti-resurrection theology, and that Jesus disses Mary, and that Satan kisses the sacred wounds, and that, in short, everything that could go wrong and be offensive does go wrong and is offensive, is because the process of symbolic privatization going on here is one that doesn't just ignore the yardstick of orthodoxy, but is precisely intended to flout and violate it?

Is it not possible that Kazantzakis is not just a poet with no particular religious motives reinterpreting religiously inspired symbolism, who unintentionally happened to step on fundamentalist toes, but is actually acting on specifically religiously influenced motives that happen to be blasphemous and heretical?

Do we ever actually get to the point where a portrait of Jesus is blasphemously and offensively wrong? If so, where is it?

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To presume to "privatize" the figure of Jesus Christ and the crucifixion as uniquely personal symbols with significances different from and violently contrary to the significance intended by God and recognized by Christendom is, I submit, inherently objectionable and offensive.
But doesn't Christ himself invite us to do this very thing when he calls us to "take up our cross" and follow him?

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